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An Historic Look At The NBA Finals’ 2-3-2 Format

by Darnell Mayberry Published: June 16, 2012

Nuggets on all things NBA Finals in the 2-3-2 format era.

  • The NBA Finals have been knotted up through two games 12 times since the 2-3-2 format began in 1985. The team that starts the series with home-court advantage has gone on to an 8-4 record in those instances.
  • Since the 2-3-2 format began, only two home teams have swept Games 3, 4 and 5. The 2004 Pistons did it against the Lakers, and the 2006 Heat did it against Dallas.
  • Since the 2-3-2 format began, three road teams have swept Games 3, 4 and 5. The Pistons did it in 1990 over the Blazers, the Bulls did it 1991 over the Lakers and the Lakers did it against the Sixers in 2001.
  • In the 12 times that a Finals series has been knotted at one game apiece, the most common result in the middle three games is for the home team to win Games 4 and 5, which has happened four times. The next most frequent occurrence is for the home team to lose all three games, which has happened three times. The home team, in the middle three games, has won only Game 4 twice, won Games 3 and 4 once, won Games 3 and 5 once and won all three just once.
  • Since the 2-3-2 format began, there have only been four series that have gone seven games.
  • The most common duration of a Finals series in the 2-3-2 era is six games, which has happened 14 times.
  • There have been four sweeps in the Finals under the 2-3-2 format.
  • Five Finals series have lasted just five games under the 2-3-2 format.
  • The winner of Game 3 when a Finals series under the 2-3-2 format is tied at one has gone on to win the championship 11 of 12 times.
  • Which series in the 2-3-2 era does this year’s Finals mirror most for the Thunder? The 1992 Finals. The parallels are palpable. The Bulls and the Blazers were on a collision course for the Finals all season. Each team had a superstar who was among the very best in the game, Michael Jordan for Chicago and Clyde Drexler for Portland. The Bulls won in six but, like the Thunder, surrendered home-court advantage in Game 2. Chicago won Games 3 and 5 in Portland before closing out the series at home.
  • Which series in the 2-3-2 era does this year’s Finals mirror most for the Heat? The 1985 Finals. This well-documented Lakers title over the Celtics could be the blueprint for the Heat’s path to a title. The Lakers entered that series without home-court advantage but, like the Heat, stole it in Game 2. The Lakers went on to win Games 3 and 5 at home before closing out the Celtics in Boston in Game 6.
  • Which series in the 2-3-2 era should the Heat be afraid of history repeating itself? The 1990 Finals. This is the absolute worst-case scenario for the Heat. The Pistons bulldozed the Blazers in five games, even after losing home-court advantage following a Game 2 loss. Detroit won Games 3 through 5 in Portland, becoming the first team in the 2-3-2 Finals format to win the middle three games.
  • Which series in the 2-3-2 era should the Thunder be afraid of history repeating itself? The 2011 Finals. Last year’s Heat could be this year’s Thunder. Miami entered the Finals as the favorite against Dallas, but the Heat ended up losing in six games. Miami started the series with home-court advantage but, like the Thunder this year, lost Game 2. After responding with a win in Game 3, the Heat was totally outclassed in Games 4, 5 and 6 and became the first team to go on to lose a Finals series in the 2-3-2 format after winning Game 3. And much like this year’s leading story line, last year’s Finals had a superstar seeking his first title after years of failure. When that star, Dirk Nowitzki, took over, there wasn’t a thing Miami could do about it. If LeBron James gets in a zone, we could see a similar series. Sorry, Thunder heads.
  • Which series in the 2-3-2 era does this year’s Finals seem most likely to emulate? The 1994 Finals. In terms of personnel and style of play, the ’94 Finals looked nothing like this year’s matchup. That year’s championship bout saw two great centers, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, go head-to-head and neither team score more than 93 points in any game. But the Rockets and Knicks were two evenly-matched teams, with one franchise seeking its first championship (sound familiar; Seattle doesn’t count) and the other searching for its third. Houston also entered the series with home-court advantage but lost Game 2. A long, hard-fought and competitive series ensued. The Rockets eventually won in seven games. And oh yeah. It just so happens that Pat Riley was on the losing end then just as he could be now.

-DM-

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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